Why the Hawks again started slowly in a road playoff game

logo-playoffsWhy did the Seahawks come up short in Green Bay?

Plenty of fans and media are focusing on the end of the game: Pete Carroll’s decision to punt on fourth-and-11 from the Seattle 36 with 2:41 left (we would have punted, too), Ken Norton letting rookie Ugo Amadi cover Davante Adams on a third-and-8 that turned into a 32-yard gain and the close Jimmy Graham play against Lano Hill (why was he in coverage anyway?) on third-and-9 that sealed it.

But let’s be clear: That game was lost in the first half, when Russell Wilson and company scored just three points. It was the fifth time in nine road playoff games that Carroll’s Seahawks had scored three points or less in the first half (the four others were scoreless first halves). In those nine games, the Hawks have averaged 4.7 points in the first half, never scoring more than 13. They have led just once, 10-3 in Philadelphia in this season’s wild-card round, and they are 3-6 in those games (all of the losses in the divisional round).

So what happened this time to put the Hawks in a 21-3 halftime hole (the fourth time they have been down by at least 18 at halftime in divisional playoff road games)?

The main culprits were Wilson and Brian Schottenheimer. Despite knowing their offensive line was battered, they decided to throw from the pocket the entire half, using almost no misdirection or mobility, and run Marshawn Lynch behind undersized Joey Hunt, an average player made worse by a stress fracture in his fibula.

Let’s look at the terrible first-half possessions:

First (down 7-0): The first play was a fumble by Jacob Hollister on an 11-yard pass gain. The Hawks luckily were allowed to keep the ball, but then Lynch gained nothing up the middle (behind Hunt). Wilson was sacked on second-and-10 and then threw incomplete on third down as he was pressured to run. Wilson was playing from the pocket, not moving until pressured — a huge mistake against a defense with Za’Darius and Preston Smith, who combined for 25.5 sacks this season.

Second: Schottenheimer called three straight Lynch runs, and Hunt lost his block on third-and-1 and Lynch was stuffed. Lynch had gained eight on first down, and Schotty played it conservative rather than looking to air it out on second-and-2 (we would pretty much always throw on second down). Just horrible play calls, knowing the line cannot run block (Lynch and Travis Homer tallied just 39 yards on 15 carries in the game).

Third: A 28-yard pass to Tyler Lockett put the Hawks in Green Bay territory. But Wilson couldn’t find anyone on first down as seven Packers covered his three receivers. He should have run. Then Schotty called a run on second-and-10 (something he should never do), and the Hawks ended up with a field goal.

Fourth: After the Packers went up 14-3, Seattle moved 58 yards behind a couple of passes to Lockett (31) and D.K. Metcalf (13), plus their first misdirection play (an end-around by David Moore for six yards). But then pressure got to Wilson again. Germain Ifedi whiffed on Za’Darius Smith, who sacked pocket-bound Wilson. And then the QB was chased on third down and threw in the dirt. Jason Myers missed a 50-yard field goal (what else is new?). Wilson was in the pocket way too much again. Why not move around to help the beleaguered line?

Fifth: Down 21-3 with 1:22 left and no timeouts (Seattle took them all on defense on Green Bay’s previous TD drive), Wilson hit Lockett and Metcalf. But, still standing back there, he was sacked on second down with under a minute left. On the next play, he finally figured it out and ran for 13 yards. But it was too late. There were just 10 seconds left, and his Hail Mary fell incomplete.

Wilson came out in the second half and played with the urgency he should have shown in the first, running and passing his offense to three straight touchdowns to get back in the game. But the damage was done in the first half. Asking this defense to stop the Packers three straight times in the fourth quarter was far too much.

The defense had problems all season, so it was no surprise that Aaron Rodgers, Adams and company scored 28 points. It was always going to be up to Wilson to play his best game if the Hawks were going to advance. He didn’t turn it on until the second half, by which time it was too late. And Schotty didn’t help him with enough misdirection and called rollouts.

Another slow start, another road playoff loss. Will they ever learn?

One thought on “Why the Hawks again started slowly in a road playoff game”

  1. Well, this is harsh.

    My take overall is that SEA lost a close road game because they weren’t as healthy as GB, had no depth at WR, and because the defense underperformed and had no plan to neutralize Aaron Rodgers’ best weapon.

    I went back and watched the game again. As I saw it, they stuck with the deep drop throughout,/ There were ~40 pass plays in all, including 5 Wilson scrambles, and 4-5 rollouts each half. The pass pro was surprisingly decent ,especially given the makeshift OL and the high quality of GB’s rush. The Packers got pressure, but not as consistently as it may have seemed live.

    However, this came at a cost: In the first half, the problem was a lack of open receivers, not a lack of purpose. RW looked for the quick pass, especially at the beginning, but had no one to throw to, possibly in part because of going to a heavy OL. This happened repeatedly. Things opened up in the second half after SEA began with play-action passes — After some early completions, the offense found a rhythm and finally got going. The stats guys say that it’s not necessary to run to go p-a, so if there’s a criticism of the offensive game plan, it’s that SEA didn’t go p-a soon enough.

    But they lost this game on defense. In the second quarter and beginning of the third quarter the Packers had three straight TD drives of 75, 60, and 75 yards, and turned a close 7-3 game into an18-point game.There is much to criticize here — especially since the defense was relatively healthy. Besides the usual poor pass rush, the poor third down play (seven GB first downs came on a 3rd-and-7+), the failure of even attempting to take Devonte Adams out of the game and dare Aaron Rodgers to win the game with a decidedly mediocre group of receivers is inexplicable. This absolutely killed them at the end of the game, with Rodgers 32-yd pass to Adams on yet another 3rd-and-long.

    All of this being, something has to change on offense. As I see it, Pete Carroll wants to start off probing, play close to the vest, and try to get away with being as conservative as he can. The question is, how is that working out? Maybe it’s time to come out swinging: A team might not win a game in the first quarter, but there’s nothing wrong with getting a leg up.

    Like

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